Real Estate Controversy & COVID-19: Essential Service Debate

We’re in the middle of a global pandemic crisis – our Province and Town are in a state of emergency. On one hand people are being told to go home and stay home – to save lives. So why are people still listing their homes for sale and inviting strangers into their homes to view? And vice versa, why are potential Buyer’s going into stranger’s homes for viewings?

In Ontario, Realtors are still on the list of essential services/occupations during this global pandemic COVID-19 crisis. We’re being told by our governing bodies that, during this time of staying home to save lives, it’s not business as usual – purchases and sales of real estate are to be conducted only for essential financial and essential sheltering circumstances. A key word is essential – on which we’ve received no definitive details of what essential is – and therein lies some of the controversy.

So is Real Estate an essential service? We’re not talking about whether putting off your real estate move will be uncomfortable for you or inconvenient for you or could potentially cost you extra money – everyone is dealing with that – we’re talking about your purchase and/or sale being essential to live and not being able to wait until the global pandemic crisis is over. Here are some scenarios where selling or buying a home could be deemed “essential”:

  • If you’re in default on your mortgage and about to lose your home and you have left yourself with a short window in which to sell and save a terrible situation from getting worse
  • If you have a firm and binding sale of your home, then finding a home might be essential. Adequate housing and shelter is considered a universal human right.
    • Controversy comes into play when people question if the sale of your home came before this Pandemic Virus started taking over the globe.
    • Also, some people could wonder if the sale of your home is conditional on you finding a home (fairly common condition) or if you chose to not include this condition – this potentially creates a controversial perspective on whether your “essential” purchase could have been avoided.
  • Or if you have a firm and binding purchase on a home, then selling your home might be essential if you can’t afford to keep both homes at the same time.
    • Once again, the question could be asked; was this done before every news outlet in the County was able to notify you about this Pandemic Virus and if not, why are you jeopardizing public safety by buying and selling at a time when staying home is saving lives?
    • Did you not use a condition to sell your home in your Agreement of Purchase and Sale? A very common condition.
  • Maybe you had a firm and binding purchase and sale back in January and just before it was to close, the bank said NO to your Buyer or your Buyer breached or initiated an anticipatory breach of contract – all potentially strong “essential” reasons.

During the months of March and early April we had a lot of newly posted Residential listings in Northumberland County – so were they all essential? Were all these sellers in a dire situation to sell? Do your neighbours and general public believe that all these new listings were essential listings – not business as usual listings – essential listings?  

Do all Realtors believe they are an essential service?

  • Some say no
  • Some say on occasion
  • Some say yes

Can most listings and sales, not wait until the Pandemic ends and people were no longer living in a state of emergency? We’re all being inconvenienced by this global outbreak and “inconvenienced” is an understatement. 

A friend who is also a Real Estate Sales Representative posted a question on Facebook a while ago. It was something she came across and it really spoke to her: “If Public Health called tomorrow and told you that you had tested positive for COVID-19 and asked you to list all the places you had been and all the people you had been in contact with for the last 14 days – would you be proud of yourself, or embarrassed by your actions? No need to comment, just think about it.”

These are defining moments – times in the real estate community, when you can gain trust and build reputations or lose trust and reputations.